Meaningfulness and identities

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 11 (2):123-148 (2008)
Three distinct but related questions can be asked about the meaningfulness of one’s life. The first is ‘What is the meaning of life?,’ which can be called ‘the cosmic question about meaningfulness’; the second is ‘What is a meaningful life?,’ which can be called ‘the general question about meaningfulness’; and the third is ‘What is the meaning of my life?,’ which can be called ‘the personal question about meaningfulness.’ I argue that in order to deal with all three questions we should start with the personal question. There is a way of understanding the personal question which allows us to answer it independently of any consideration of the cosmic question, but which nonetheless helps us see why the cosmic question should be dismissed as a bad question. Besides, a recommendable answer to the general question can be derived from my understanding of how the personal question should be answered. Two notions are essential to my account, namely, the notion of identities and the notion of a biographical life. And the account can be epitomized in this enticing way: a person’s life is meaningful if it contains material for an autobiography that she thinks is worth writing and others think is worth reading.
Keywords Meaning  Meaningfulness  Identities  Identification  Value  Biographical life  Skepticism  Ultimateness  Subjective  Objective  Intersubjective
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